Strengthening national Capacities to Scale Up Development-Relevant and Gender-Responsive Quality Literacy Programmes

Literacy is a fundamental human right and the foundation for lifelong learning. Progress has been achieved in this area, though not fast enough: youth and adult literacy have been one of the biggest challenges to achieving the EFA goals. In the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, literacy remains a priority under target 4.6, which commits the international community to ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.

One other challenge faced by most of the countries in this region is that of low literacy levels in primary education, especially in the early grades. One aspect which could be contributing to this state is the multilingual and multicultural context of the region. Research has already revealed that teaching in mother tongue in the early grades enhances children’s ability to learn better than in second or foreign languages. While UNESCO promotes mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual approaches in education, there is still inadequate commitment and insufficient planning in scaling-up, in addition to an often disappointment from parents.

Most of the Southern African countries are above the regional average of literacy rates. However, there are still a number of challenges including weak learning outcomes among students in school, out-of-school children who have little chances of becoming literate, a large number of non-literate adults, a shortage of educational materials, a lack of qualified tutors and facilitators to support literacy programmes. Many learners of primary school age are failing to acquire basic literacy skills.

In Mozambique, the Capacity Development for Education for All (CapEFA) Programme on literacy was implemented from 2009 to 2015. With the goal of improving the capacities of the Literacy and Adult Education sub-sector to enhance progress in achieving the Education for All goals, the approach of the project was mainly concerned with capacitating those who are engaged in various literacy and adult education programmes around the country so that these implementers are able to perform at a higher level. Improvements were observed in the design of literacy programmes, in the production of better materials for training literacy facilitators and for literacy learners, and in improved planning, monitoring and evaluation.

In 2015, Associação Progresso, a Mozambiquan NGO, was awarded the 2015 UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize for its programme ‘Literacy in Local Language, a Springboard for Gender Equality’. The awarded project includes integrating literacy in local languages, awareness-raising and advocacy on domestic violence and women’s human rights. Its main objective is to promote gender equality and women’s participation in 25 communities in four districts of the Niassa province, in Northern Mozambique.

As part of the 2015 Quality Education Platform in Namibia, a Language Symposium was organized in October 2015. The symposium discussed issues pertaining the language of educational instruction. Participants stressed the importance of proper implementation of the Namibian Language Policy for schools in Namibia and improved classroom practices, particularly as to how the transition to English as the medium of instruction is handled. Participants recognized the need for intensified pre-service training and continuing professional development for junior primary teachers.

Also as part of the 2015 Quality Education Platform in Namibia, a two-day Southern Africa Regional Workshop on Literacy was organised by UNESCO with the support of the Namibian Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture, the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation and the University of Namibia in October 2015. Namibia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe participated in the meeting.

While sharing lessons learned, the participants discussed a range of interventions to enhance literacy skills development in both non-formal and formal education:

  • Supporting capacity building needs for literacy teachers and development of literacy materials.
  • Providing technical assistance to improve policy formulation, monitoring and evaluation;
  • Providing guidelines for adult education policies;
  • Establishing a regional platform for the sharing of best practices based on evidence;
  • Mobilising resources;
  • Encouraging governments to prioritise literacy;
  • Developing monitoring tools for the collection of data;
  • Assisting in the development and implementation of advocacy strategies.

A follow up workshop held in Lesotho in December 2015 allowed Member States  to share their experiences on developing instructional materials and ensuring quality literacy teachers.

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